To test the hypothesis that gait training with a hip-assistive robotic exoskeleton improves clinical outcomes and strengthens the descending corticospinal drive to the lower limb muscles in persons with chronic stroke.
Fifty participants completed the randomized, single-blind, parallel study. Participants received over-ground gait training with the Honda Stride Management Assist (SMA) exoskeleton or intensity-matched functional gait training, delivered in 18 sessions over 6–8 weeks. Performance-based and self-reported clinical outcomes were measured at baseline, midpoint, and completion, and at a 3-month follow-up. Corticomotor excitability (CME) of 3 bilateral leg muscles was measured using transcranial magnetic stimulation.
The primary outcome, walking speed, improved for the SMA group by completion of the program (0.24 ± 0.14 m/s difference, p < 0.001). Compared to the functional group, SMA users had greater improvement in walking endurance (46.0% ± 27.4% vs 35.7% ± 20.8%, p = 0.033), took more steps during therapy days (4,366 ± 2,426 vs 3,028 ± 1,510; p = 0.013), and demonstrated larger changes in CME of the paretic rectus femoris (178% ± 75% vs 33% ± 32%, p = 0.010). Participants with hemorrhagic stroke demonstrated greater improvement in balance when using the SMA (24.7% ± 20% vs 6.8% ± 6.7%, p = 0.029).
Gait training with the SMA improved walking speed in persons with chronic stroke, and may promote greater walking endurance, balance, and CME than functional gait training.
Classification of evidence
This study provides Class I evidence that gait training with a hip-assistive exoskeleton increases clinical outcomes and CME in persons with chronic stroke, but does not significantly improve walking speeds compared to intensity-matched functional gait training.